If you’re raising Monarch butterflies for a school, camp or just at home, THIS is the way to do it. For years I raised my Monarchs inside in a glass jar. Then I built this butterfly cupboard to hang on the side of my house and it’s spectacular.
The thing about raising Monarch butterflies is they’re very much a gateway bug. First you’re raising Monarchs, then you get bees and before you know it you’re deep into ant farms and worm composting. So be warned. If you start raising Monarchs, it isn’t going to end there. Consider this fair warning.
Also of note; once you raise a Monarch butterfly there is a 100% chance that you’ll force the experience on others (in what you think is an enthusiastic manner, but they see as maniacal).
If you don’t know how to raise a Monarch or would love to know how to do it, it’s pretty simple. I have an entire series of posts that walks you through how to do it and what each stage of the Monarch metamorphosis. Start here to learn all about how to raise a Monarch from egg to butterfly.
Last week I wrote a blog post explaining why I’m changing my Monarch raising practice a little bit. From here on in I’ll be raising them entirely outdoors instead of indoors in a variety of glass vases scattered around my kitchen. To keep everyone in one place, I built a Monarch enclosure to hang on the side of my house. Babies will go in the bottom of the enclosure and older, bigger caterpillars that are ready to chrysalis will go in the top.
Here’s how to build your very own butterfly conservatory.
Build a Butterfly Enclosure
- Window Screening - 24" x
- 1/4" birch Plywood - 2' x 4' panel
- 1x2 lumber - cedar, (2, 8' lengths)
- Strapping - Pick it up for free from around lumberyard
- Hinges - 2, 2" hinges
- 2" finishing nails
- Large stapler - with 3/8th staples, and 1/2" staples
- drill bit (that's slightly larger than your flower vials)
- Compressor with 2" nailer and stapler (optional instead of using large stapler and finishing nails)
Cut your 1x2s to length. - Frame
7" x (4)
18" x (4)
28" x (4)
Cut your strapping to length. - Door
17" x (2)
20" x (2)
24.75" x (2)
27.75 x (2)
Cut your plywood to size
20 wide by 30 long (for back of enclosure)
18 x 6.5 (for shelves)
1. Using a compression nailer or screws build the frame of the enclosure with all of your 1x2 pieces of wood as you see in the photo. Use a square to make sure everything is as square as possible.
2. Stand your frame upright and place your final two 1x2 pieces in place, recessing them back a bit to allow room for the thickness of your door (which is 2 pieces of strapping laid on top of one another). Once your frame is completely built double check your measurements for your door. (sometimes even if we try REALLY hard, we don't build things square. If the frame isn't square the size of the door might need to be adjusted a bit)
3. Build the door by laying down the 20" and 24.75" of strapping in a rectangle on a flat surface. Butt them close to each other. Lay window screening over top of the first layer of strapping and tack it down with a stapler fitted with 3/8th" staples. Lay down the 17" and 27.75" strapping so the edges overlap the first layer of strapping. This will help make it stronger.
4. From the wrong side, staple through both the frames and screening with 1/2" staples, making sure to keep everything square and corners butted up tight together. Trim excess screening with a razor.
Attach the door to the frame with 2 hinges.
5. Once your door is on cut more window screening and staple it all around the inside of the frame so there's NOwhere for a tiny caterpillar to escape. Measure and cut strapping to cover the stapled areas and attach. Do NOT put strapping on the very bottom of the enclosure, it will be covered later with a floor.
6. Measure and cut strapping 4, 6.5" lengths of strapping to act as shelf supports. Lay down one of your 6.5" x 18" pieces of plywood as the enclosure floor, and one for the roof. Staple into place or use a 1" finishing nail.
**You should need to cut off anywhere from .5" - 1" of the length of it (the 18") for it to fit. The amount you cut off will depend on how square your enclosure is.**
Staple or nail the 6.5" strapping right above the floor, and again around 12" up from the bottom of the enclosure. These will act as shelf supports.
7. Using a drill bit that's slightly larger than your flower vials drill 5 holes into a scrap piece of wood. I had extra plywood so I used that, but you'll have used up all of your plywood from your 2'x4' piece so just use any wood you have. Reset the wood on your lower shelf support. Place your last remaining plywood shelf on the supports that are 12" up from the bottom.
8. Double check that your door swings freely and add some 1/4" weather stripping to the edge of the frame to make it extra caterpillar escape proof.
8. Now all that's left is to attach the back to the enclosure, the latch and hooks at the back for hanging.
9. You're done!
The caterpillars are housed on the East side of my house getting morning sun, but shielded from the hottest afternoon sun and weather.
I took inspiration for my butterfly house from Monarch raiser and all-around doer of stuff, Deanna from Homestead & Chill. You can see her butterfly enclosure at the bottom of this post on her blog.
I made my butterfly enclosure entirely out of scrap wood (leftover cuttings from when I repaired and refinished my antique pine floor) and you can too but keep in mind that using wonky wood can lead to a wonky butterfly enclosure that’s much more difficult to get square.
Also, I’ve given directions for 1x2s in the plan, but you can use 2x2s as well. It’ll just make your enclosure a bit heavier and bulkier. Don’t forget to adjust the measurements if you decide to go with 2x2s.
So far I’ve chosen to leave my shelves as raw wood whereas Deanna has covered hers with vinyl for easy cleanup. Monarchs poop a lot you see. Plus they’re vulnerable to disease so you need to clean their enclosure. I’m counting on the natural antimicrobial properties of wood to do their thing. If I find cleanup too difficult or notice disease spreading I’ll just stick on some vinyl floor tile or shelf liner.
To fancy the house up a bit I’ve added some solid brass corners to the door, used a brass latch and switched out the hinges you see in the photos for 2 larger, brass ones. (I was trying to use only things I already owned to make this but the 3 tiny hinges weren’t doing their job well.)
The best part about this is neighbours walking past can see the process as well. They’ll see my sign, wonder about it then as they round the corner of my house, they can see me feeding the Monarchs, the chrysalises as they hang and the Monarchs as they emerge.
I no longer have to explain to everyone how magical raising Monarchs is. They’ll be able to see it for themselves. And if they don’t happen to see it I shall tackle them, sit on them, hog tie them and then point everything out to them.
Because I’m “enthusiastic”.
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